Staying Closed Before the Swing
Prematurely opening of the hips and shoulders robs hitters of power. This problem is most common among younger players who begin to drift open while waiting for the ball to approach the plate. In some cases this can be corrected by striding later (if the stride is in fact too early). This can also occur when the batters head isnt picking up the ball.
Opening up helps the head to turn to get a better view. Thus, getting the head in proper position in the stance and maintaining it through the stride might correct this problem. For many other hitters, drifting open is a result of wanting to pull the ball regardless of where it is pitched.
Hitters need to realize that they will get more power on the inside pitch they can pull if they stay closed until they swing and that pitches on the outside part of the plate shouldnt be pulled anyway. Telling a hitter to point his front shoulder at the ball when tracking it to the plate appears to work for some players in correcting this problem.
Stepping Out on the Pitch
This generally begins because of fear of the ball and may continue later simply because of habit. To help correct this habit, place a ball glove or something flat to the left of the hitters stride area (for right-handers), so they know when they are stepping out. If they realize they are stepping out and continue doing it, they may have a balance problem. Have them lift their front heel off the ground during their stance and stride. This will help them keep their weight forward toward the plate.
Stepping out may also be due to the desire to pull the ball. Discourage strict pull-hitting. The hitter should develop the mental image of hitting the ball straight back at the pitcher and hitting to all fields.
If fear is a factor, it is important to convince the player that he is safer when striding straight at the pitcher than when bailing out. The proper movement of the batter when a ball is thrown at him is to turn inward toward the plate and then toward the catcher (while dropping his head if the pitch is high). This protects his head and chest (the two dangerous places to get hit). Bailing out opens the hitter up and usually results in exposing the chest and head to the ball. Also, I know several young players who have overcome their fear through on-deck prayer.
The Level Swing
There is a lot of controversy concerning the angle of the bat when hitting a pitched ball. Based on watching film of great hitters and what has proved successful for the kids I work with (and in line with Ted Williams' approach to hitting), a level swing is not swinging the bat level with the ground. A level swing also only refers to the path of the bat head through the hitting zone, not the initial part of the swing involving the hands coming down to the ball or the follow through after contact.
A level swing involves swinging the bat level with the path of the pitch. This is a slightly upward swing (the degree to which depends on the pitcher). This increases the likelihood of hitting the ball squarely, even if contact is a little too late or too early. When hitting down on the ball (which is popular among many coaches), the hardest hit balls will be grounders. Lines drives will flutter and only occur when slightly undercutting the ball. Weak line drives are also produced by big uppercuts and the only hard hit balls will be high fly balls (which are easier to catch than low fly balls).
Correcting for uppercuts and undercuts begins with the position of the hands when the stride foot is planted (launch position). Aside from the hands being over the rear foot at this point, their height is also important. Uppercutting (more than what is required by the path of the pitch) often occurs because the hands start too low ñ often by the ribs. Undercutters generally start their hands too high, somewhere above their shoulder. Ideally, the hands should be close to shoulder height. From the rear shoulder, the hands should bring the bat head down into the hitting zone and then up at the ball. When the bat head flies forward, it should go through the contact area level with the path of the ball.
The pitch is on the way, you've coiled and taken your stride and now you're ready to swing. The first thing to realize is that your swing should not be driven by your arms, but by your legs and hips. We'll take a look at each area of your body and follow it through the swing.
As your weight moves forward from your back leg to
your front leg, your back foot will pivot towards the pitcher and
your knee will turn in. The front foot will not pivot and you will
want to keep that leg stiff. It's not necessary to keep it completely
straight, but you don't want to flex it as you transfer your weight.
(This can cause your head to drop as your tracking the ball.)
While you pivot on your back foot, you also will open up your hips. The degree to which you open your hips depends on the location of the pitch. On inside pitches, you need to completely open the hips to get your hands through right next to your body. On outside pitches, you have to keep your hips more closed to get your hands out and drive the ball the other direction.
Your legs and hips are going to drive your swing and provide power. Work hard on both of these and you will see a difference in the batting cage and on the field.
ARMS AND HANDS
When you begin your swing, you want your hands to be at the top of the strike zone. This will allow you to swing down on the ball.
To have a quick bat, you must start your swing by bringing your hands through close to your body. On inside pitches, your hands stay closer to your body longer than on outside pitches. Remember to extent the bat towards the ball just before contact. If you extend the bat too soon, you will slow down your swing. As you make contact with the ball, your bottom hand should be palm down and your upper hand should be palm up. This means that you haven't yet rolled your wrists over. Rolling your wrists happens naturally after hitting the ball. Concentrate on driving through the baseball. Sometimes players are in such a hurry to start running that they actually start slowing down their swing before contact. Hit the ball hard first, then run. As your hands continue forward and your wrists roll over, it's natural to let you top hand come off the bat. This allows you to continue with a good follow through on your swing.
It's essential that you track the ball from the start of the pitch to the bat. Often hitters want to see where they hit the ball before contact. Concentrate on watching the ball all the way through contact and look at the contact spot for a split second after you hit the ball. This ensures that you have tracked the ball the entire way.
Another way to think about tracking the ball is shoulder to shoulder. Start your chin near your front shoulder; after you swing, your chin should end up on your back shoulder. If it doesn't, then you're leaving your head out in front of the plate and not watching the ball all the way in.
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